With over 40 years of experience working as a School Psychologist, it had become clear to Eva that there are no easy answers for working with students who have challenging behaviours. Many years ago, she stopped looking for answers to the question, “What can I do to fix this student who is misbehaving?” and instead she started to search for an understanding of why the child was behaving in that way.
In 2002, Eva was introduced to the Attachment-based Integrated Developmental paradigm developed by Dr. Gordon Neufeld. His paradigm provides a comprehensive framework for understanding human behaviour that is steeped in neuroscientific findings. This paradigm has given me the means by which I have come to a better understanding of the “why” of challenging behaviours.
At the same time, great strides were being made in the area of neuroscience and the data were showing us clearly that the human brain takes a long time to fully develop. This confirmed her decision to adopt a developmental approach to understanding and intervening with students with behavioural challenges.
In addition, research on the effect of trauma and chronic stress on the developing brain and its implication for behaviour was coming to the fore. It helped clarify underlying causes for behavioural difficulties experienced by some children, especially those living in conditions of chronic stress caused by adverse childhood experiences.
These influences confirmed what Eva had already come to understand, that when children behave in ways that we find challenging, they are just trying to give us a message that something is distressing them. She now sees that the role of an adults is to heed this distress. It is then up to the adults to provide a developmentally appropriate and developmentally safe intervention to help them handle the challenges of life, especially life in the school setting.
In keeping with these principles, we have come to the following understandings:
Student misbehaviour is a form of communication.
Children who live in challenging family circumstances are affected emotionally and neurologically and this often results in “acting out” behaviour.
The more that students “act out” the more they are trying to tell us that something is not working in their life and that they need us to help them.
If we focus on simply changing the behaviour, we miss the opportunity to correct and compensate for underlying causes.
True behavioural change only happens over time and as a result of growth and development.
The best interventions respect the child’s developmental level, protect the child’s vulnerability and create strong child-adult relationships.
Here are the Guiding Principles that inform the interventions recommended:
Students are immature beings who are in the process of development. They cannot act more mature than their current level of development.
Human maturation is a biological process that can be nurtured, but it cannot be rushed.
In order to provide the optimal conditions for maturation, children need to feel safe.
When children feel safe, their brain can rest. It is only in rest that growth can happen.
Growth requires “softness” which implies an ability to tolerate vulnerability. This can only happen in the safety of an adult relationship.
Strong relationships with safe and caring adults provide the natural environment in which children are able to grow and develop.
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
November 7, 1995
Bill Watterson, cartoonist, really understands frustation and attachment!
As a result, we no longer promote typical behavioural interventions such as reward systems, tracking systems, time outs, consequences, and detentions. These interventions, while they sometimes may be effective in the short run, can have unanticipated negative consequences, often interfering with natural development processes and significantly eroding the precious and necessary child-adult relationship.
“When a flower doesn't bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower."
Alexander den Heijer